Price says SFU gondola idea should be seriously considered

Post by Gord Price in


A proposed gondola from the SkyTrain to SFU is being discussed

My office at SFU’s downtown campus is a hundred steps from SkyTrain (I’ve counted).

In less than an hour, I can be at the Production Way/University Millennium Line station for a transfer to the diesel bus which takes me up Burnaby Mountain to the main campus.

Can you guess which part of the trip I dread?

It may be the shortest leg, but the bus is crowded, noisy, polluting and jarring.

When I first heard about the idea of a gondola to replace that little bit of hell, I was an immediate fan – but skeptical. Would it be cost-effective, practical for students, faculty, staff and the residents of UniverCity – and not an unwarranted intrusion for those who lived below?

If there is a good business case – and if TransLink can mitigate privacy concerns for people who live below the proposed path – then the gondola should be built, and quickly.

If, on the other hand, a business case fails to demonstrate savings in transit users’ time, in taxpayers’ money and in increasingly hazardous carbon dioxide emissions, the project will likely get bumped down the long list of transit priorities – delayed indefinitely or lost forever in the crowded file of fabulous ideas that didn’t quite work out.

Either way, that’s the basis on which the SFU transit gondola should be judged: on its merits.

Early reviews of the gondola have returned positive findings. A gondola would reduce trip time by almost half over the current diesel bus service, encouraging more people on the mountain to use transit – and would free up 35,000 hours of bus time, enabling TransLink to reduce bus purchases and staff costs or improve service in other parts of the region.

Using hydroelectric energy, the gondola would save an estimated 1,870 tonnes a year in greenhouse gases, and would reduce the particulate pollution from diesel exhaust.

The construction footprint would be small and the environmental disruption would be a one-time event.

Once in place, the service would be clean, quiet and inexpensive to operate. It would also remove completely the bus line-ups that currently plague us all.

Given that gondola construction and operations will affect the immediate neighbourhood, TransLink has already initiated a public consultation, and in response to concerns has offered to alter the gondola design to prevent riders from looking down into houses, and, in some cases, to pay for changes on the ground as well.

The task now is to weigh the merits of the new service against the effects of location disruption.

There are many thousands of transit users on Burnaby Mountain (the SFU routes currently serve 25,000 individual trips per day) and thousands more potential riders who might get service when the gondola frees up buses.

There is potential savings for hundreds of thousands of TransLink taxpayers.

If residents’ concerns can be mitigated – if, on balance, the service proves a benefit to transit users, taxpayers and to everyone who breathes the air locally or is concerned about climate change globally, it would be a mistake to miss this clean, healthy, efficient, affordable and innovative opportunity.

And it would give this region an iconic form of transportation that would make this user’s trip to SFU something to look forward to.

- Post by Gord Price. This was originally published as a letter to the editor of the Burnaby Now. Price is Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. He also writes, teaches and consults on urban development and planning. He served six terms as Councillor for the City of Vancouver, from 1986 to 2002, as well as on the board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro) and TransLink, the regional transportation authority.


Follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus. Follow Gordon on Twitter @pricetags.



I like it. Cost, time, environment,'s a good idea.

It does seem like a good idea and the business case does seem strong, hopefully the full analysis shows this to be true. I worry, however, about the insistence on keeping Production Way as the load station. What a depressing place! It makes sense as a place to marshal buses for the run from Lougheed Highway up the mountain, but yikes! Let's think bigger.

Terminal design is important; TransLink and SFU should work with designers who understand crowd modelling and that you provide enough room for milling around, ticket purchase, getting a coffee, etc... this goes for indoor spaces as well as outdoor plazas. The P2P at WB doesn't do this very well, but there are of course major facilities nearby, and everyone's 'dressed for the weather', so it's not as much of an issue; it will be for SFU - these terminals should be more than Phibbs Exchange with a gondola.

From the perspective of encouraging well-designed transit-oriented development, Burquitlam (if the Evergreen Line ever goes forward) seems to have a lot more potential to be a vibrant place, with a lot of people moving around, than does Production Way, which is little more than a massive arterial intersection, a humdrum view-blocking office block, and a lot of parking. Unless there are some crazy unknown plans there, it seems a shame to pour all of these people into that soulless, windswept barren next to Lougheed Highway. At Burquitlam, there is a real opportunity to create a vibrant place, with people walking across a busy square transfer between the gondola and the Evergreen line (no need for a single fare control zone due to the new fare technology; they'll buy coffee along the way, there'll be a couple of food carts, a pub for SFU and the neighbourhood, groceries, post office, etc... lots of potential for an off-mountain community to support SFU and complement UniverCity, and make something very bustling along the Evergreen line. None of that is likely (or perhaps even possible) at Production Way.

As SFU (and the UniverCity developers) recognize, something like this is about more than just point A to point B - it's about city-building. And Production Way is a lot less likely to be a city than Burquitlam is. Just ask the folks at Whistler why they didn't put their gondola stations out by some massive parking lots and bus loops on highway 99...

The Thought of The Night

"Let me be the first one to say it, ahem...Dear SFU Academia,whether you like it or not, the problem you're facing, does not come from not being able to get to the top of the mountain in a more sustainable, cleaner, cheaper or faster way. It comes from the fact that you have to do that in the first place!"

Whoever came up with the idiotic idea to build a University campus and later a...UniverCity on top of the Burnaby mountain is Guilty of Mountainslaughter. Period.

When God first heard about the SFU development plans, many years ago, he said "Someone, tell me Lucifer has nothing to do with this!"
He never got an answer to that.

Who would worry about transportation, water, sewage, fire fighting, emergency first aid, or policing on the top of a mountain? Not God, that's for sure, he wasn't even invited to the Open House, and he didn't want you to build there, but you wouldn't listen...

Tell you what, SFU all are people of reason, and you would all appreciate when a good, safe ride proposal would come your way.
Well, here it is:

Glissando Remmy's Transportation PROPOSAL

Up the Mountain

1 - Catapult (singles, or groups with reusable catching nets)
2 - Pneumatic Air Tube Trains (they mail you in fibreglass tubes)
3 - Human Cannon (only for weekends and statutory Holidays)

Down The Mountain

1 - Gravitational Toboggan (using your body weight and shape - fatter and out of shape you are, faster you'll get to your destination)
2 - Zip Line (for the adrenaline junkies only)
3 - Any form of paragliding

So Gordon dear, hope this helped.
If Robertson can come up with chicken coops, and bee hives, followed by wheat on the front lawns why can't I come up with these, eh?
Good thing we don't have to worry about all this here in Vancouver! We'll leave all the worrying for Burnaby.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Gliss, his name was Dr. Gordon Shrum. He was head of BC Hydro, the progenitor of our beloved Translink.

looking at the advantages from an environmental standpoint is only one side. what about the people who will be under the route? and what about the people who live or go to school at the top of the mountain. i wonder if this would be an incentive or deter people. don't get me wrong! it seems like inherently a great idea, but the execution may be flawed

this site has good info on both sides, with a particularly interesting discussion here:

Don't forget to add in the costs of buying out all those properties near the path of the gondola. If the residents in Tsawwassen were entitled to have their properties purchased because of a transmission line replacing an existing line, then the Burnaby residents have a pretty strong case for compensation for something that could not have been foreseen when they purchased.

The Thought of The Day


Yeah Gerry,
that is a good line, and a true line. I watched your video took me back to my high school days, aaah, beating the crap out of the little guy and taking his sandwich money, aah, it all came back...(hey, that was a joke!) What can one expect from a bunch of self appointed, self indulgent, over-payed public employees?


I knew that...Gordon Schrum was also one of the top 0.1% that withdrew his WHOLE amount of $$$$$ invested in the stock-market just before it crashed in 1929. Go figure. Coincidence, eh? Than he went into the 'rental' being remembered as one of the shrewdest landlords that ever stepped foot on this British Columbian land.
Few years shy of its 50st anniversary and this SFU Campus is already plagued with problems, seeing the 'benefits' of a rushed decision made by...developers and politicians.
One good thing though, it established Arthur Erickson as a great architect which I admired and learned from.

Well now, being here, talking SFU, campus on the top of the mountain, Arthur and messy it is an older comment of mine on Arthur posted on Fabula @ 'The Arthur Erickson legacy: Beautiful buildings and messy drama'
(surprisingly you will find some very interesting 'elements' in there... like a stadium by the waters of Gastown)


Glissando Remmy // May 7, 2010 at 11:03 pm

The Thought of The Day

“Erickson was Pointy. Lewis is sometime Pointy, and sometime he’s Pointless, Urbanismo is Pointless. Think Oblio. Oblio is good! After all, Pointy or not, who cares? We could always wear the Pointy Hat if we need it. You don’t believe me, ask the Pope, he has no such problem, it worked just fine for him!”

This, is my true fable.

I knew Erickson. Apparently he is greater now in death than when he was alive. It was in June 2006 when I stood with him outside the Council Chambers for close to three hours. The issue of that Day: To build or not to build the Whitecaps’s Stadium in the Gas Town waterfront location. Erickson as well as Bing Thom were vividly against this silly proposal, which to this day I think it has as much weight as the Burrard Bridge Bike Trial. It was, and still is…Pointless. The two venerated architects of this city, were listened to in silence, by the Association of The Brain Dead…NPA, VISION, COPE councilors, who after a short deliberation unanimously decided to go ahead and study some more of the said proposal… until a better fit is found. Why? Because some shmuck with an ad-hoc association called The Friends of Soccer, promised the politicians that they(FoS,) will do WHATEVER in their power, to address ALL the issues…of course, their boss’s donations will continue to hit the lining of above said group’s Election Campaign Pockets, in no time.

“He who shows you a nicely wrapped bunch of ‘pictures’ with the Queen... talks the sweeter truth and is always the better architect. ”


We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Would anybody buy a home under a gondola in a quake zone.So here we are,the people who live there are already trapped with just the threat of this thing going ahead.And what about the people who are afraid of hights,are they denied an education or will they run buses anyway to accomodate them.Im really sick of people like price who always trot out the killer co2 end of the world think about the children guilt trip,I think you will find that that old hypothesis is going the way of piltdown man.

Good read, Glissando Remmy.
Thanks for your candid words on Arthur Erickson, may him RIP. What an enjoyable video clip...aren't we all sleeping?
The present transit problems they have now are 100% man made, and could have been avoided, but for that common sense was needed,and public consultation. And perhaps less greed. All the movers and shakers of that time, all dead now, what do they care? I know I am cynical.

This whole project sounds like another designer project from Translink. By the way I thought they didnt have any money?

Why waste it on this crazy thing. Put the money towards projects that will get more people onto transit. The Gondola will only provide a better view to people who are already taking the bus up the hill and dont like the crowding like Price.

As well if you go through the literature it is apparent that most, if not all of the bus routes going up the mountain will continue so whether they are half full of people compared to today they still have to go up the mountain using gas and producing pollution.

This gondola proposal should be seriously considered. We live in Vancouver as Gliss says, and it has mountains and it has seas. There's no reason why we shouldn't use mountain transportation systems to solve a mountain transportation problem just as we have for our sea transportation problem via the Seabus. As Gordon says, if the business case proves out and the affected local community can be properly satisfied, get on with it. With regard to money, that will be part of the business case study. There are options:

1) The buses reassigned may reduce the need to purchase new ones, this leaving at least some money to put into this project.
2) Maybe a P-2 or P-3 might work.

SFU and UBC are remote campuses. That's reality, so let's get the most appropriate solutions to optimize their functionality. That could also include a Seabus from the North Shore to UBC and SFU as well.

It's interesting that both universities have Downtown campuses. SFU's somewhat more legitimate at the moment. Perhaps UBC can take over the VAG when it moves, or maybe go into party of the Pavco lands at the Stadium?

This half baked idea reminds me of the fast ferry fiasco.

Remember how that turned out.
Not that well.

I rest my case.

Check out!

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